There’s less than a month to go until Google’s ‘mobile-friendly algorithm’ launches. So, we’ve gathered all the facts you need to know about the new ranking factor that promises to be bigger than Penguin or Panda.

This post is adapted from our free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm. Download your copy now, and learn how to make your website mobile-friendly and protect your search rankings.

All the Facts (So Far)

Google’s new mobile-friendly algorithm launches on Tuesday 21 April 2015

Calendar with 21 April marked.

Google says it will have a “significant impact” on mobile search results, and will be bigger than Panda or Penguin

Google hasn’t provided any figures to show how much impact this new algorithm will have. However, in its initial announcement, the company said it would have a “significant impact” on search results.

Following this, webmaster trends analyst Zineb Ait Bahajji said the algorithm would have more impact than Panda and Penguin, Google’s infamous webspam updates.

For reference, Panda affected up to 12% of search queries when it went live, while Penguin affected around 3.1% of queries at launch.

The algorithm is related to Google’s ‘Mobile-friendly’ labels that appear in mobile search results

This means if your webpages appear in search results with this label, you (presumably) shouldn’t have to worry about the algorithm update.

For more information on the mobile-friendly labels, read our news post.

The algorithm is applied on a page-by-page basis

So if only a few pages are affected by mobile usability issues, you shouldn’t receive a site-wide penalty.

This also means you don’t have to worry about making your site 100% mobile-friendly by the April 21 deadline. You may decide to prioritise the optimisation of problem pages based on their importance or existing search visibility.

However, with the growth in mobile usage, it makes sense to make your site as mobile-friendly as possible, as quickly as possible.

The algorithm runs in real-time

This means that changes to your website will be taken into account as soon as Google crawls the modified page. It doesn’t mean you’ll instantly receive better rankings if you make recommended improvements.

If it typically takes a long time for Google to crawl your site, you need to work even faster to ensure your site is ready in time.

The algorithm still uses some desktop signals to determine mobile ‘friendliness’

For example, the speed of your desktop site is still taken into account when weighing up the usability of your mobile site.

We don’t know exactly which desktop signals Google refers to. So you should assume that if your desktop site has usability issues, it may affect your mobile usability in Google’s eyes.

Does the Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Impact Technical SEO?

As far as we know, all best-practice technical SEO considerations still stand.

SEO -on-page and off-page.

Most of Google’s recommendations for mobile-friendly focus on visual aspects of responsive design. Technical SEO concerns such as URL naming conventions and linking structure can, of course, affect your positions in Google search results – but there’s nothing to suggest they’re factored in to this new algorithm.

If you have a mobile website, as opposed to a responsive site, then you should ensure you’ve implemented canonicalization correctly. This tells Googlebot that the desktop version of the site is the ‘original’ . In turn, this avoids duplicate content issues, and ensures that backlink strength is passed back to the desktop version.

This is in line with Google’s long-standing recommendations for mobile canonicalization. Here’s Matt Cutts explaining how to implement it:

Does the Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Impact Paid Search?

Google has given no indication that the new mobile usability ranking factor will affect AdWords customers.

Spare-Change-Budget

But Zoe O’Neil, ClickThrough’s director of paid search, reckons Google will focus its attention on PPC in due course:

“Google is quite clear in its intentions with its new ranking factor – it wants to provide users with ‘the most relevant and timely results’.

“Although the new ranking factor only affects organic search, it makes sense that Google will, at some point, also take mobile usability into account when ranking PPC ads. After all, they’re an integral part of the search experience, and are inherently more visible than organic results.

“I expect that Google will soon factor in mobile usability when calculating Quality Score for ads, if it doesn’t already do so.

“If this ends up happening, having a mobile- unfriendly site will mean settling for lower Quality Scores – and, in turn, paying more to secure the same ad positions.”

Timeline

June 2013

  • Google publishes a blog post saying “we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.”

May 2014

  • Google demonstrates that Googlebot can ‘fetch and render’ a website as a mobile user sees it.
  • Google adds mobile optimisation tips to its PageSpeed Insights tool.

July 2014

October 2014

November 2014

February 2015

March 2015

21 April, 2015

  • The new mobile- friendly algorithm goes live.

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ClickThrough is a digital marketing agency, providing search engine optimisation, pay per click management, conversion optimisation, web development and content marketing services.